Construction employment in New York City declined to 101,200 in the first quarter of 2011, marking its lowest level in nearly 13 years, according to a New York Building Congress analysis of New York State Department of Labor employment statistics.
The number of men and women employed in construction has dropped precipitously since reaching a peak of 136,000 jobs in the third quarter of 2008. In fact, the first quarter 2011 number is the lowest since the second quarter of 1998, when employment stood at 99,000.
While overall construction industry employment generally decreases during the winter months, the first quarter numbers are the continuation of an alarming trend for the industry. Construction employment in the first quarter of 2011 is down 7 percent from the first quarter of 2010 (109,000 jobs), 16 percent from the same period in 2009 (120,800) and 21 percent from the winter of 2008 (128,300).
Because the Building Congress analysis examines employees on payrolls rather than actual days worked, the overall numbers would not be materially impacted by the high number of snow days in the first few months of 2011.
The specialty trades sector, which includes plumbers and electricians, has shed nearly 20,000 jobs since the first quarter of 2008 (from 85,600 to 65,800). Another 8,500 building construction jobs have disappeared (from 35,400 to 26,900) over the same period. The heavy construction and civil engineering sector, however, has gained 1,100 jobs (from 7,400 to 8,500) thanks in large part to ongoing public infrastructure projects.
While overall employment is down, the average wages earned by construction workers are holding relatively steady. Construction workers in New York City earned an average of $49,249 in the first nine months of 2010 (the latest period for which data is available), compared to $48,580 for the same period in 2009 and $48,392 during the first nine months of 2008.
Given that fourth quarter earnings are generally highest, due to year-end bonuses, it appears that annual earnings in 2010 will be on a par with 2009 ($69,400) and 2008 ($68,300).
“The construction industry historically lags the broader economy. We are one of the last to feel the effects of a downturn, as well as one of the last to recover,” said New York Building Congress President Richard T. Anderson. “In this respect, a drop in employment is not too surprising in and of itself.”
“Having said that, these first quarter numbers are unsettling,” Anderson continued. “It is apparent that, apart from a few mega-projects and ongoing government work, there is significantly less construction occurring throughout the five boroughs. Those formerly ubiquitous small to medium size projects, which fed the building boom, have virtually dried up, and a lot of hard-working men and women are now out of work as a result.”